Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Returns to Native Lands, Reclaiming the Other's Language: Kincaid and Danticat

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Returns to Native Lands, Reclaiming the Other's Language: Kincaid and Danticat

Article excerpt

Returns to Native Lands, Reclaiming the Other's Language: Kincaid and Danticat (1)

When asked, "Who do you belong to?" Amabelle Desir, narrator of Edwidge Danticat's The Farming of Bones, points to her chest and says, "Myself." Likewise, the speaker in Jamaica Kincaid's My Brother says she understands why someone "would want to feel as if he or she belongs to nothing, comes from no one, just fell out of the sky, whole" (12-13).

The feeling of belonging to nothing or no one but oneself is not unusual in diaspora writing. Literature of migration often includes not just the departure from home, but Aime Cesaire's mythic evocation of the subsequent return to what once was home. The "native" (and I use the word in the context of the English translation of Cesaire's Cahier d'un retour au pays natale or Return to My Native Land) does not think of herself as raced, as Other, until in exile in the metropolis. Once abroad, race is forced upon her; she is now a stranger, a foreigner, or a black. On returning home, the native undergoes a re-migration, not home, but to a state of liminality. She is now in fact homeless, in between, neither here nor there, for you can't go home again. The speaker in Antiguan writer Jamaica Kincaid's My Brother moves into this liminal state after having acquired the relative wealth, privilege and comfort of the adopted homeland. The speaker in Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat's The Farming of Bones finds herself in a liminal state because those who made up her home, her people of the Dominican Republic, no longer exist. The authors Kincaid and Danticat exist on national and literary borders, but how comfortably? Danticat contends that "a border is a veil not many people can wear" (The Farming of Bones 1998: 264). This in-between state is a reality of life for many women around the globe. As boundaries between nations and ethnic groups blur, and as movement across borders increases, more women, especially poor women of color, find themselves not quite at home. How do Kincaid and Danticat express and cope with this sense of dislocation and rootlessness?

Though not at home in the country of migration, the country of origin is no longer the site of memory, nostalgia, or homesickness. Those who stayed home notice the difference in speech and may even ridicule the way the returned migrant now talks. In the case of Kincaid and Danticat's writing, the migrant either does not want to return to the poverty and lack of resources now visible in the former homeland or cannot be at home without those she has chosen to love. Of course, many Caribbean migrants want to return, but cannot without the economic means; thus home becomes a remembered and then an imagined community. Other migrants regularly depart and return home, then depart again for the mainland in order to perform seasonal labor. Memory thus becomes more fixed, as each return either confirms or alters what was remembered--or each return is shaped to conform to memory.

Return involves a recasting of identity, a double exile: the immigrant becomes either the prodigal daughter who brings foreign knowledge or values into the native land or "an imagination out of mind" (Clark 45) who lives only in memory and cannot belong to the present moment. Kincaid and Danticat interrogate nigration, identity, exile, language, as well as the complications of writing about home from afar and writing about trauma of others. Trauma may be the invisible AIDS virus attacking the body or a dictator's soldiers attacking the bodies. The displaced body is under attack from powerful forces and is no match for either, in Kincaid's case, multinational capital combined with the devaluing of black bodies that controls the price of AIDS drugs worldwide or, in Danticat's case, the repressive state apparatus of Trujillo's military. Both My Brother and The Farming of Bones are narratives of homecoming that also function as narratives of trauma and discipline of the body. …

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